For law and order buffs, scanners are the ultimate cop show
Friday, July 4, 1997
WA2SQQ @ The Controls!
By Monique El-Faizy
Joe Calafiore likes to keep an ear tuned to what's happening
around him. Literally. The Totowa resident enjoys watching television
as much as possible, but while he sits in front of his tube,
his mind is on other things: He's listening to his police and
fire scanner through an ear piece.
The reason? "I don't know why...nosy, OK?
Calafiore is one of 10 million to 20 million people nationally
who listen to scanners for recreation, said Bob Grove, publisher
of North Carolina based Monitoring Times, a magazine for scanner
and shortwave enthusiasts.
David Eisenberg, manager of one of the areas biggest scanner
suppliers, Community Communications in Fairlawn, said that he
has "literally thousands" of customers.
When Fairlawn High School was evacuated in April after a potentially
dangerous chemical was found in the basement, Principal Elizabeth
Panella said she received
several phone calls from residents who heard about the incident
on their scanners.
To the untrained ear, the talk sounds more like idle chatter
than a source of excitement. Most of it is police radioing fairly
mundane information to each other, and to the initiated, even
the potentially thrilling is indecipherable. But enthusiasts
say that even seemingly banal talk is informative.
It's all about curious, said Warren Silverman, author of the
bible for local scanner users, The Scanner Master New York Metro
/ Northern New Jersey Guide", now in its 10th printing.
"Basically, why most people buy scanners is, they see a
fire truck go down the street and they want to know where it's
going and what's going on, "Silverman said."
Fans say scanner listening is a lot like watching a real-life
cops show on television, only more real. "I've always loved
to listen to police," Calafiore said. "I knew all the
cops in Paterson." Calafiore said he has the scanner on
whenever he's at home and has one he listens to in the car. Scanner
use is legal in New Jersey, even in the car, said John Hagerty,
spokesman for the state police.
Calafiore's scanner collection is downright low-tech in comparison
with those of some of the more technologically advanced. Bob
Kozlarek has a collection of scanners scattered throughout his
Elmwood Park house in a dedicated room in the basement, hidden
behind the laundry room. In addition to scanning the airwaves,
Kozlarek likes to surf the Internet and is employed as an engineer
for a major broadcast electronics company.
Kozlarek said scanners bring him one step closer to the world
around him. "Why do you read newspapers" he asked?
Scanners, he says, give him "access to news that may not
be in the newspaper." "You'd be surprised what you
can find out in your neighborhood," he said. One time, he
even overhead a stakeout by the FBI, he said.
Were Calafiore keeps his scanning to himself, Kozlarek who
brought his first scanner home in his early teens, is a proselytizer.
"My mother said, what are you going to do with that...?,
he said. But her attitude soon changed. " It took about
a week," Kozlarek said, before he would come home to find
his mother crocheting to the sound of cop talk. "She got
hooked", he said.
Although Kozlarek's wife, Linda, has put her foot down and
now insists that he turn the scanner off in their bedroom at
night, her mother, Helen, has
become hooked. Kozlarek said his mother-in-law watches New Jersey
Devils games with the sound off, opting for the sound of police
and fire chatter. "It's contagious." Linda Kozlarek
Every Wednesday, Kozlarek and friends run an on-air question
and answer group that people can tune into with their scanners
or ham radios. He also answers questions that he gets by e-mail.
The group is growing quickly, he said. There are about 75 regulars
who check in weekly, and on a recent night 9 new people tuned
in. In addition, over 100 people receive his on line newsletter.
Kozlarek is quick to say that scanner listening is not about
thrills for "serious" enthusiasts - whom he defines
as being someone as owning more than two scanners. "I'm
not chasing fire engines", he says - "that's not what
Police offers say they generally don't mind civilians eavesdropping
- as long as they stay away from the action. Moonachie Police
Chief Michael McGahn said he generally doesn't pay much mind
to scanner enthusiasts, but notices that often people from other
towns turn out to watch fires. Usually crowds are a problem at
a large fire," he said.
Glen Rock Captain William K Kealy echoed these sentiments,
but added another potential problem: People sometimes misunderstand
things they hear on scanners, then go a spread rumors - often
about neighbors. At least one officer sees a positive aspect
to being listened to. " I'm glad they do, because then they'll
see how busy we are." said Fairlawn Police Officer David
DeLucca, vice president of the local Policemen's Benevolent Association.
"We are glad people are interested."
For many listeners, the hobby is about knowing where the fire
truck and police cars are. Eisenberg said many of his customers
are seniors who want to know where the trouble is, especially
those who live in dangerous areas. "People are afraid to
go out in their back yards," Eisenberg said.
Others have more personal reasons. Paterson resident Peggy
Thys keeps tabs on her family with her scanner. Her father is
a dispatcher, so she can spend her evenings listenings to his
voice. When her daughter Melissa was out in the car one evening,
Thys heard police run a check on her license plate. For Thy's
youngest daughter, Amanda, a backdrop of scanner chatter has
always been as normal as the birds singing outside her window.
One of the first things she said was, "10-4," Thys
©1997 Bergen Record Corp.